Mark Rosman [Interview]

We have a wonderful interview with a brilliant writer and filmmaker who has had such a varied and stellar career that we are so honored that he was willing to take some time out of his busy life to share a few words with you fine readers today! We believe you are worth it, and we are so happy when someone as talented as Mark Rosman does as well!

Mark is responsible for one of the greatest cult classic horror films of all time, 1983’s The House on Sorority Road. This was our initial reason for wanting to hear from Mark, but we would then learn that he has done some amazing work outside of the world of horror, and we wanted to talk a bit about HOSR as well as they plethora of other fine projects he has done. One highlight would definitely be his work bringing the wonderful young actress and music sensation Hilary Duff to the limelight by being entrusted to direct her work several times in both the world of film and television. And there is so much more to learn! We wanted to know how he got his start, and where we can catch him in the future. And we did just that!

So please enjoy some great words from a damn fine man, the great Mark Rosman!

When did you first realize that you wanted to join the world of filmmaking? Was it a passion you derived from an early age, or did you just happen to find yourself in the business?

I wanted to be a filmmaker from a very young age.  My interest began with photography.  My brother, four years older than me, had a Pentax still camera and took pictures on family vacations and more artsy pictures as well.  He converted his bathroom into a darkroom and I became his assistant.  Around fifth or sixth grade, I started taking pictures myself and developing them.  One in particular stands out to me as a clue that I wanted to expand my interests into movies.  I went to a Dodger baseball game and took a series of photos of different plays.  In the darkroom, I picked out the ones that told the story of one play: from the pitcher pitching, to the batter hitting, to the infielder fielding and throwing, and finally to the first baseman catching the ball and making the out.  I printed the pictures and then cut them up into smaller pieces and mounted them in a vertical sequence.  My first storyboard!  Soon after that, I was asking my history teacher if I could make a small movie about the California Gold Rush and turn that in instead of a written essay.  That led to me filming a satirical take-off on the TV series “Mission Impossible”.  And finally in eighth grade I wrote and made my first original narrative short movie called “The Room” about a small, one room apartment that has a life of it’s own and takes revenge on the drunk who’s living there after he wrecks the place.  I was hooked after that.

What was your very first gig you can remember working on the film business? And did that first experience leave any sort of impact on you that you still feel in your work today?

My first real paying gig in the film business was working as a PA on a TV movie called Love For Rent in 1979.  I had just graduated NYU undergrad film school and actually had an amazing experience (that didn’t pay) being Brian DePalma’s first assistant director on a feature called Home Movies.  Brian was already famous for directing Carrie and other films (this was right before Dressed to Kill) and he wanted to make a low budget comedy working with a largely student crew.  He recruited kids from Sarah Lawrence College (one of his alma maters) and since I was dating a girl from there, I snuck into the mix and quickly volunteered to be his first AD when they were passing out job assignments.  I had made a few student films by then but knew nothing of what a real production was like or what a first AD did.  Needless to say, I learned a ton.  I spent the rest of the year in New York City being the worst PA imaginable, then for some reason one of my lungs collapsed (not really that serious, but laid me up for a couple weeks) and I finally decided to come back home and live with my parents in LA.  My father, a dermatologist, had a TV producer as a patient who hired me to be a PA on this TV movie.  I did all the typical stuff like get coffee and pick-up the lead actress when her car broke down.  The one thing I remember that I still apply to my directing came when I happened to be one of the first crew members on a new location right when the director arrived and saw the set for the first time.  He gave notes to the art department about how the set dressing needed to reflect more of the personality of the character living there, and how some areas on the walls were too empty and needed filling up.  Very simple stuff, but I ate it up.

Your 1983 film The House On Sorority Road is held in a very high regard in the horror community as an absolute classic. Aside from the 80’s being a heyday for horror filmmaking, what was it that made you want to tell this tale? Where did this story come from?

Thanks for calling it an “absolute classic”!  I’m not quite sure about that.  After graduating college, I was trying to figure out how to start my career as a film director.  At first I thought I could find a script to try to get made.  After reading some bad scripts, that concept didn’t work.  Then I tried to find some writers that would write something for me.  That didn’t work either.  I had co-written one script with one of the student  crew members on “Home Movies”.  His name was Sam Irvin and he’s gone on to direct many films and TV movies.  We collaborated on this script about a mother who keeps her demented son in a closet in some hick town and he occasionally got out and killed people.  It was a really bad script!  But there was one idea I liked in it – the mother who keeps her mentally ill son locked up.  Once I realized that I needed to write a script in order for me to start my directing career, I took that fragment of that idea and married it to a world I was familiar with from my first two years of college – the Greek fraternity and sorority world.  I was in a fraternity at UCLA before I left and went to NYU (the reason was that I wasn’t accepted into the UCLA film department).  I knew that horror films were cheap to make and were doing really well at the time – films like Halloween and Friday the 13th.  I wasn’t actually a fan of horror films — what I loved were thrillers.  I saw myself as the next Hitchcock and John Frankenheimer.  So I decided to write a script that had enough of the horror elements to sell it, but it would essentially be a murder thriller that focused on an ensemble of seven sorority sisters.  There were two things I really wanted to accomplish story wise with the script.  The first was that the victims of the crazed killer, the sorority sisters, needed to bring about their own demise due to their own misconceived actions.  In other words, they were at fault, they weren’t just innocent pieces of meat.  And the second was that the final girl was going to die at the end.  Well, I accomplished the first and I shot the movie the way I intended for the second, but the distributor had me change the ending to indicate that the last girl survived.

In your own personal opinion, what do you believe it is that sets The House On Sorority Row apart from the plethora of other amazing horror films that were released during that era? I know why it is special to me, but I’d love to know what your thoughts are on the matter as the mastermind behind the project?

What sets the movie apart, I believe, is that first story element I just described above.  In many of the horror films of that time, the victims’ only fault was that they either were having sex or they stumbled into the wrong place at the wrong time.  To me, that was just so thin and uninteresting.  I loved movies where you put a bunch of people together in a room and they are all in a desperate situation and they argue about how to solve it.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie takes place in the kitchen during the party just after they realize that the body of the house mother they’ve accidentally killed, and put in the pool, is now missing.  We see the girls arguing over what to do and I pit the good girl vs. the bad girl and see the choices they must make.  The other girls chime in one way or the other and they all now regret having done what they did.  In other words, I desperately wanted there to be a vivid, dramatic story happening to real characters in this movie while at the same time they are being stalked and killed.  This was my attempt at a Hitchcockian horror film!

In more recent years, you have been known for works that are a bit away from the horror/sci fi/thriller genres you were working extensively in at one point. More recent work has actually been a bit more family friendly or youth oriented. How was this transition for you? What are some commonalities in working in two very different types of films?

I never intended to go into the family film genre.  But when my good friend from NYU, Alan Shapiro, got an overall producing deal at the brand new Disney Channel in 1984, he asked me if I could come up with something suitable for that family friendly network.  At first I balked, thinking that wasn’t for me.  But luckily, I realized that this was an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up, so I sat down and started to come up with ideas.  One of the things I did was write down a list of regrets and/or wishes in my life.  One of the things was I wished I had known my grandfather who died when I was five.  As I grew up, everyone said how much I seemed to be like him.  He was in the metals business, nothing creative, but was an amateur photographer with a great eye who took really nice family pictures.  So I had this idea about a boy who goes back in time to meet his grandfather.  It was half an idea that was cool but it didn’t go anywhere.  One day I was biking around Palm Springs with another friend of mine, a producer named Steven Fazekas, and he said, “what if the boy goes back in time to save his grandfather’s life?”  Bingo.  That was a movie idea.  Thank you, Steven.  I ended up pitching that story to the Disney Channel and they hired me to write and direct it as my second movie.  It was called The Blue Yonder and starred Peter Coyote, Art Carney, and the boy from the the movie Terms of Endearment, Huckleberry Fox.  The film came out really well, was nominated for Best Cable Movie of the year at the ACE Awards and for Best Children’s Script at the WGA Awards.  Suddenly I realized that I was good at this family genre and really liked playing in that sandbox.  From that point on, I went back and forth between writing and directing thriller and sci fi movies that went straight to video and making Disney Channel TV movies and eventually directing some Disney TV shows like Even Stevens and Lizzie McGuire.

As far as commonalities between those genres, I’d say they have in common what all good movies have in common — great stories and characters we can relate to and root for.  That’s what I’ve always tried to achieve in my films.  Also, those two genres are benefited by being visual.  I try to create a world to put the characters into and I try to show that world and tell those stories in the most visual way I can.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Lately I have turned to writing more personal, indie types of films.  I wrote a script that’s been a passion project of mine for many, many years and I finally finished it a few years back.  It’s part autobiographical, and part historical fiction.  In 1965, the Beatles were next door to my house in Beverly Hills!  I was eight at the time, but a huge Beatle fan and I was in my own little band playing guitar.  We lived next door to the president of Capitol Records who invited the Beatles over.  The band was actually renting a house nearby while they were in town to play at the Hollywood Bowl.  One night, the fab four met with Elvis Presley, who was John and Paul’s idol and the reason they loved rock ’n roll.  In my story, a 16 year old boy who lives next door to the house the Beatles are renting, finds John Lennon passed out on his lawn.  When John wakes, he tells the boy that he wants to meet Elvis one on one before the rest of the group, and the boy helps him get to Elvis’ house.  It’s a coming of age tale for both the boy, who finds out his hero isn’t just the fun loving jokester he thinks, and John who was going through a depressed time that he referred to as his “fat Elvis” period.  It’s a pivotal time in Beatle history when John changed his whole approach to writing pop songs and penned great songs from the album Rubber Soul, like “In My Life” — which is the title of the movie.  I have a producer interested right now and hope we can shoot it soon.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I just saw a 2016 documentary called American Typewriter that is about the typewriter and the people who are passionate about it on the one hand, and on the other hand, a fascinating look at what we’ve become in our fast paced, digital world, and how the tools we use to create might just effect the actual thing we are creating.

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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